Indiana Daily Student

Indiana men’s basketball plays No. 8 Purdue in regular-season finale Saturday afternoon

<p>Senior guard Rob Phinisee passes around Purdue sophomore center Zach Edey on Jan. 20, 2022, at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. Indiana will play No. 8 Purdue in its regular-season finale Saturday in West Lafayette, Indiana.</p>

Senior guard Rob Phinisee passes around Purdue sophomore center Zach Edey on Jan. 20, 2022, at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. Indiana will play No. 8 Purdue in its regular-season finale Saturday in West Lafayette, Indiana.

Indiana men’s basketball improved to 14-4 the last time it played then-No. 4 Purdue on Jan. 20 in Bloomington. Senior guard Rob Phinisee, who played at McCutcheon High School less than 20 minutes away from Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Indiana, put away his hometown team with a career-high 20-point performance. He capped off the upset with a memorable go-ahead 3-pointer with 16.9 seconds to play.

Since then, however, Indiana has lost seven of its last 11 games and went from an NCAA Tournament lock to the first team out of the field, according to ESPN’s latest bracketology. On the other hand, now-No. 8 Purdue won nine of its next 10 after losing to Indiana but has lost its last two games on the final possession against Michigan State and No. 10 Wisconsin. The in-state rivals will face off again at 2 p.m. Saturday at Mackey Arena.

In its last game against Rutgers on Wednesday — another team on the bubble of the tournament — Indiana gave up a 7-point halftime lead and lost 66-63, making its rematch against in-state rival Purdue its most important game of the season so far.

Indiana is already locked into the No. 9 seed of the Big Ten Tournament and will face the No. 8 seed, so a win in its second-round game would do a lot less for its March Madness hopes than a win against Purdue, which is currently third in the conference.

Despite the tough loss against the Scarlet Knights on Wednesday, Phinisee said the Hoosiers are in good spirits and looking forward to getting a win. He said Ray Tolbert, who played for Indiana from 1977 to 1981, spoke after Friday’s practice and gave the team a morale boost.

“We’ve definitely bounced back,” Phinisee said in a Zoom call Friday. “Everyone knows what position we’re in. This game tomorrow is a must-win.”

While the Hoosiers struggled in February, Phinisee watched on from the sideline after suffering a plantar fasciitis injury against Penn State on Jan. 26. He missed the next seven games, including all of those during Indiana’s five-game losing streak from Feb. 5 through Feb. 21, but he returned for nine minutes in its win against Minnesota on Feb. 27.

He played 17 minutes in Wednesday’s loss to Rutgers, which is barely under his season average of 19.4, but he struggled from the field and scored just 2 points. However, Phinisee was his normal self on defense, playing aggressively off the bench behind senior guard Xavier Johnson.

Indiana has made a habit of collapsing late in the second half in the final month of the regular season, and its performance against Rutgers was no different. Phinisee’s only bucket of the game was a layup to put Indiana up 52-45 with 9:08 to play, but the three-and-a-half-minute scoreless drought by Indiana and 7-0 Rutgers run that followed ended the Hoosiers’ lead for good.

“It’s definitely the little things,” Phinisee said. “After each one of those losses, we watched film on the last six, seven minutes of the game.”

Phinisee said he feels like Indiana’s offense does really well in the first 30 minutes of games, but struggles in the final 10 as players get tired. He said communication and making sure everyone is in the right spot during defensive rotations will be the key to winning games moving forward.

If the Hoosiers hope to take down the Boilermakers on Saturday, they will need to play a full 40 minutes on defense and keep the Mackey Arena crowd out of their heads. The Boilermakers have dominated on their home court this season, putting up a 15-1 record at home with their only loss coming against the Big Ten’s No. 1 seed Wisconsin Badgers.

“Just blocking out the noise and staying together and just being one team, we feel like that’s the biggest thing we need to do right now,” Phinisee said. “Stay together and believe in each other.”

Follow reporters Kamil Gut (@GutKamil) and Tristan Jackson (@Trist_Jackson), and columnist Da’Qwan Dockery (@ddockery35) for updates throughout the game and the rest of the Indiana men’s basketball season.

Location: Mackey Arena, West Lafayette, Indiana

TV: ESPN

Radio: IU Radio Network

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